The RAC Club in Pall Mall is not the sort of place to turn up underdressed and overloaded. Having turned up definitely underdressed and with rather too many carrier bags, I avoided the stony eye of the porter. moved sharpish through the marbled vestibule and cast around for Michael Rudman. He had suggested the club as a large. quiet. central place to meet. It was certainly quiet. Apart from the porter there wasn‘t a soul in sight — only the gentle tinkle ofcivilised behaviour far away and behind closed doors.
Michael Rudman was hiding behind a magazine. marooned on a chintzy sofa in a pink ﬂowery drawing room. ‘It used to be a bar.‘ he explained. From my baggage I produced a tape recorder. Rudman suddenly looked worried: ‘We‘re not really supposed to work in here. It‘s one ofthe rules ofthe place.‘ We retired. conspiratorially. to a small alcove out of the porter‘s range of vision and pressed a bell which looked like it ought to summon a Jeeves character with a drinks tray. It didn‘t. I sat on the guilty tape recorder while he disappeared in search of alcohol and we finally set about trying to look entirely casual.
M Golf—and life
Tall. with a benign and slightly anxious air. Rudman answers questions with friendly openness and a touch of playful self-mockery. He still retains a soft American accent. though he has worked in this country since studying at Oxford University. He is married to actress Felicity Kendal (and has recently become a father) and arrived at the National Theatre in 1978 having directed in theatres the length and breadth of the land - including Edinburgh‘s Traverse (where he was Artistic Director from l970to '73). In recent months he has directed work as diverse as a stage adaptation of Turgcnev‘s Fathers and Sons and Nick Darke‘s new play 'l'ing Tang Mine for the National. Nonetheless he was surprised when Sir Peter Hall asked him to take on Beckett‘s Waitingfor Godot — the first production that the National
Felicity Kendal Theatre has ever mounted of the play that Hall himselfgave its British premiere thirty-three years ago.
‘When he asked me to do it I thought it was very strange. because I didn‘t seem like the right choice. but Peter has a good idea ofwho‘s right to direct what. I‘ve done a lot of plays and I think it‘s a play that should either be directed by someone who‘s done a lot — or hardly any.
‘I have a way of looking at plays which I probably didn‘t even realise myself. But when you do a play like this you realise you have a style. you have a way oflooking at theatre. And I think — well I suppose everybody thinks they have a great sympathy with Beckett. because that’s his greatness — but I think I do have a sympathy that can be translated into theatrical terms.‘
"it. ain’t "7“. “v ’rvsi.
Rudman: It's very uplifting
His fine. precise production. set on a tilting. almost lunar landscape. has gathered excellent reviews — a far cry from 1955 when Beckett‘s minimal comedy about two tramps waiting for a character who never comes produced reactions ranging from the ecstatic to the bemused to the arrogantly dismissive. ‘Perhaps the world has caught up with Beckett now.‘ suggests Rudman. He visited the enigmatic playwright while preparing for the production and his impressions of him are recorded in the programme notes. Beckett indicated that he would like the production done as his own was at the Berlin Schiller Theatre. and the
text used is his newly revised one. He remains. however. reticent as ever about the ‘meaning‘ ofhis play. whose combination ofcomplexity and simplicity always defies description.
‘I was playing golfwith somebody the other day.’ says Rudman. ‘Inevitably after about four holes he said. What d‘you do'.) And I had to say I direct plays — which is always pretty rough. After about five more holes he said. What plays have you put on? And I said. I've got one on at the moment called Waiting For Godot. He said. What‘s that about? It was such a simple question.‘ He laughs. ‘Really I suppose the answer would have been. It‘s about what we‘re doing —it‘s about golf and life.‘
Theories about the play‘s significance have been argued over since it was first performed. It is difficult to graft any interpretation onto its beautifully spare structure. however and Rudman found the discipline of the text both guided his hand and revealed things about his own work: ‘I think there‘s a sporting term along the lines of: so and so “asks a lot ofquestions“. Well this is a play that asks a lot ofquestions— and you have to answer them. You can‘t avoid them. You can‘t just say maybe we‘ll have a red sky. You have to decide why you're doing what you‘re doing.
'It‘s very like doing Shakespeare in a sense — without the scene changes
Early in his career Michael Rudman ran the Traverse Theatre. Just before makinga return visit to Scotland with his production of Waitingfor Godot for the National Theatre, he talked to Sarah Hemming.
and the crowds and the murders. The two tramps could be out on the heath. I used to say to Alec McCowan in rehearsal. ‘Remember when you played Fool to Scofield‘s Lear and you just sat on this bench and talked kind of half nonsense and halfprofundity.‘ That‘s what I Vladimir and Estragon are doing a . lot of the time. They‘re just playing games. as Beckett says. And sort of
not killing themselves. It‘s a play ; about not killing yourself. It‘s very uplifting.‘
The production of King Lear to i which Rudman refers was Peter Brook‘s brilliant 1962 production for the Royal Shakespeare (‘ompany in which Alec McCowan played the Fool. One of the most inspired aspects of Rudman‘s Godot has been the decision to pair McCowan as Vladmimir. with his classical background. with John Alderton as Estragon. better known for television and light comedy. The two actors found a comic sympathy that has brought them fine reviews and ' played on the twin strands of the | abstract and the concrete. the i haunting and the comical in the text. ; Rudman‘s production has stressed the optimism and resilience of the human spirit. alongside the play‘s i more depressing vision of the ) brevity, mundanity and apparent ‘ inexplicability of life — summed up by } Pozzo in a line: ‘They give birth
The List 4 — 17 March 1988 9